Virtues

Authored By: St. Louis de Montfort

JESUS LIVING IN MARY: HANDBOOK OF THE SPIRITUALITY OF ST. LOUIS DE MONTFORT

VIRTUES

Summary

I. Virtues Practiced by Montfort: 1. Two comprehensive testimonials; 2. Practice of some virtues in particular; 3. Special difficulty with certain virtues; 4. Meaning of these virtues and their unity; a. Virtues and holiness; b. Virtues and devotion to Mary; c. Meaning and unity of Montfort’s virtues. II. Montfort and the Virtues: 1. The “Treatise on the Virtues” in Father de Montfort’s hymns; 2. Virtues of the Christian and the apostle; a. Virtues of the Christian; b. Virtues of the apostle; 3. Reflection on the meaning of these virtues and their unity; a. Virtues and virtue; b. Virtues of the Christian and those of the world; c. Virtues and love; d. Virtues and the consecration. III. Virtues of Mary: 1. Virtues of Mary 2. Mary and the virtues; a. Mary, model of the Christian virtues; b. Mary, mother who shares her virtues. IV. Virtues of Jesus: 1. Virtues of God; 2. Virtues of Jesus. V. Montfort Virtues Today: 1. Some difficulties; 2. Effective directions for today; 3. Useful reminders for today.

I. VIRTUES PRACTICED BY MONTFORT

One cannot separate the virtues practiced by Father de Montfort from those he called others to practice, such as in his set of hymns known as the “Treatise on the Virtues.” One of Montfort’s dominant virtues was precisely that his preaching and his own life were one. A priest who worked with him and knew him well, Father Dubois, writes: “What was unique in the life of Father de Montfort was his integrity. At no moment did he appear different from his ordinary self . . . on retreat or in public functions, with the poor, with the rich, in drinking and eating, alone or in company, and so on.”1

1. Two Comprehensive Testimonials

There are two key testimonials to the virtues of Father de Montfort. One was written at the beginning of his active life, the other at the end. The two can be regarded as containing a basic list of his virtues. The first is a letter from Father Leschassier (Louis Marie’s spiritual director) dated May 13, 1701: “I have known Father Grignion for some years. God has outfitted him with many graces, and he has responded faithfully. He has appeared to me, as to so many others who have examined him closely, to have been constant in the love of God and the practice of prayer, mortification, poverty, and obedience. He has a great deal of zeal in helping the poor and instructing them. He has industry and perseverance in many matters. He appears rather single minded, and his manners not quite to the taste of a goodly number of folk. He has such a high idea of perfection, plenty of zeal, and little experience.”2

The second list of virtues comes to us from his biographer Blain, who speaks to us of his friend’s death: “He died as he had lived, as a saint, with the liveliest sentiments of faith, the most tender piety, the most perfect abandonment to God, the purest charity, and a trust in and tenderness toward the holy Virgin that is practically without precedent.”3

2. Practice of Some Virtues in Particular

The whole life of Father de Montfort would have to be analyzed in order to show how he practiced each of the virtues that made a saint of him. Suffice it to cite some of these virtues, without distinguishing between what might be called the basic Christian virtues and the properly apostolic virtues.

With Montfort, personal poverty, self-abandonment to divine Providence, and love for the poor, were perhaps one and the same virtue. He chose poverty, traveling always on foot, “in the manner of the apostles,” begging for his bread along the route, renouncing the benefices that would have brought him security (L 6, 20). He wrote to his mother (L 20) excusing himself for not being able to help his brothers and sisters (“For the moment, I have no worldly goods to give them for I am poorer than all of them”): he does not wish to “exchange divine Providence for a canonry or a benefice” (L 6), for this would be “to be separated from my mother, divine Providence” (L 10). This choice also enabled him to enter into solitude with the world of the poor, to be one with those in whom he recognized the very face of Jesus. “His tenderness for the poor, if I may make bold to say so,” writes Blain, “went quite to excess. He regarded them as a sacrament, containing Jesus Christ hidden beneath their repulsive exterior. A poor person, he used to say, is a great mystery. One must be able to penetrate it.”4

In the radiant warmth of this love for the very poorest shine two other virtues that Louis Marie practiced to a heroic degree, both of which find their crown in mercy and love of enemies: a love of others as his brothers and sisters, and graciousness. When Montfort sings, in his canticle of charity: “Who should be surprised / that I love my neighbor so?” (H 148:4), we have a strong feeling that he is expressing his own experience. He who possessed a heart “more tender than anyone else’s” had a more than motherly tenderness for his neighbor, especially for the very poorest. “The Christian and fatherly love I bear you,” he writes to the people of Montbernage, “is so great that you will always have a place in my heart as long as I live and even into eternity” (LPM 1). Altogether naturally he is called “the good Father from Montfort.” But his goodness appears in its full light—in its full holiness—in the forgiveness he accords those who have done him harm. For Father Brenier, who humiliated him “fully, at length, and publicly” the whole time he was his spiritual director, his penitent has only words of gratitude: “I take the liberty of greeting Fr. Brenier and humbly thanking him. God only knows all the good he has done for me” (L 10).

However, Louis Marie obtained this forgiving graciousness only at the price of painful battles and fervent prayers. He himself testified to Father des Bastières that, “if God had destined him for the world, he would have been the most terrible man of his century”; but, his friend adds, “he bent unbelievable efforts to conquer his natural impetuousness, succeeded in the end, and acquired this charming virtue of graciousness. . . . It was painted on his face, it burst forth in all his dealing.”5 His last sermon, just before his death, was to be on “the tenderness of Jesus” (LS 1718–26).

This graciousness doubtless has its roots in two other deeply integrated virtues, which were, it appears, the basis of Montfort’s holiness, and which he lived as essential apostolic virtues. They allowed him to practice self-effacement, in order to let Christ himself speak and act in him. Humility led him to obey, and obedience needed humility. “These two virtues appeared in very tangible ways in all of Father de Montfort’s actions,” Besnard writes. “He was always seen blindly submitting to the most rigorous and most unexpected orders. Perhaps he would never have acquired them [these virtues] had the desire to be humiliated, and despised, not tempered his great zeal and the freedom of the gospel.”6 It is beautiful to see Louis Marie writing to the people of the outlying districts of Montbernage, to whom he has just preached a mission: “dear women of St. Simplicien who sell fish and meat, and other shopkeepers and retailers” (LM 5). Although only thirty- two years of age, he noted: “Surrounded by all this I am very weak, even weakness personified; I am ignorant, even ignorance personified and even worse besides which I do not dare to speak of” (LM 6). But again, barely a month before his death, he concluded a letter: “Humility! Humiliations! Humiliations! Thanks be to God for them,” after having asked to be prayed for, “so that,” he wrote, “God will not punish my sins and refuse true conversion of heart to all the poor who listen to my preaching” (L 33).

Although he directed his missioners “to state openly and straightforwardly the reasons they may have for omitting or for not undertaking what is commanded” (RM 27), he sings: “I tell it before my very God: / I had rather die, / and die anathema, / than disobey” (H 91:28).

One sees that this person had taken obedience, like humility , to an “all-consuming extreme.”7 As early as the days of Saint-Sulpice, he could not resist, Blain tells us, “making use of innocent subterfuges and little tricks” to obtain explicit permission to perform acts of even the smallest details of community life.8 At Poitiers, again, he felt the need to consult constantly his spiritual director, Father Leschassier, on the tiniest decisions that he had to make: “Am I doing the right thing? . . . Have I done the right thing? . . . Am I doing the right thing?” (L 10). Montfort obeyed the bishops with scrupulous exactitude, throughout his whole apostolic life. It is no doubt significant that among all of the things he was reproached for, the only one he did not accept was that of disobedience: “He was convinced,” Blain tells us, “that obedience was the mark of the will of God. One must never depart from it. But his conscience made him irreproachable on this subject. At all times and in all circumstances, he was ready to obey, and to do nothing without the approval of his superiors.”9

A study like this one does not permit a detailed examination of every virtue that made Louis Marie a saint. We should, though, speak of his courage, his apostolic zeal, his heroic mortification, his love of crosses, his virtue of religion. He always practiced fervent adoration in prayer, the four cardinal virtues—justice, fortitude, prudence, and temperance—and the three great theological virtues that have God as their object: faith, hope, and love.

However, wisdom was for him the crown of virtues: Certainly nothing is higher than faith, hope, and love, but as with these theological virtues, wisdom was for Montfort not so much a virtue as a gift. St. Louis Marie himself speaks of the gift that is greater than faith (also a virtue). It is “the cross,” or more precisely, the enjoyment and actual possession of the mystery of the cross (LEW 175). The great foolishness of the cross was for Montfort the wisdom of love. In this sense we can say that Montfort’s greatest virtue was wisdom. Wisdom was central when he began the “Wisdom” prayer group in the poorhouse at Poitiers,10 in order “to confound the false wisdom of the people of the world”; when he dreamt of erecting a gigantic Calvary at Pontchâteau; when he shared his meals with paupers, (letting them treat him as poorly as they pleased);11 when he obeyed the least justifiable order of a superior. Montfort was, very simply, wise, because he possessed the true wisdom of love which is folly, the very folly of God (1 Cor 1:21–24).

3. Special Difficulty with Certain Virtues

It is always difficult to “put one’s finger on” the mystery of holiness. Ordinarily, progress in virtue and the practice of the beatitudes will render a Christian more “human.” The demands of gospel love know no measure, and demand everything, without reserve. Such demands are difficult to reconcile with a purely human outlook in which the supreme criterion would be some kind of balance.

Some have said that throughout most of his life, Montfort appeared to have had difficulty in forming deep personal relationships. “Socially maladjusted” and “unable to participate in common social structures” have been said of him. It has been observed that he never succeeded in “enlisting genuine collaborators while he was alive.”12 However, such a judgment, even if correct, should also take into consideration the amazing apostolic successes of Louis Marie: the truly amazing conversions he brought about, the deep, lasting attachments of certain collaborators such as Father des Bastières, the altogether spontaneous affection felt for him by the poor of Poitiers: “They have become so attached to me that they are going about saying openly that I am to be their priest” (L 6). If Montfort had difficulty in relating to others, then how can we explain that, as early as 1702 (when he was only twenty- nine), he could testify how God had given him “a great capacity for sympathizing with everyone,” and that he was “highly praised by nearly everyone in the town” (L 11)? He who some say “disqualifies himself because of his moralistic statements to and about women” is the same one who would “forge very delicate friendships with female personages throughout his life”:13 Marie-Louise de Jésus, Catherine Brunet, and others. One should properly speak of Montfort as a “rare human, with a tender capacity for love.”14

It has also been asserted by some that Montfort suffered from a low self-esteem, a difficulty in loving himself,15 for he sees himself like a “snail in its shell, which, when it is hidden, seems to be something of value, but when it comes out is wretched and disgusting” (L 4). However, it must be noted that in the next letter, a few months after his ordination, he does not hesitate to express his feelings, his “tremendous urge” to sow a love of Our Lord and Our Lady in human hearts, an urge he finds to be “good and persistent.” As humble as he was, he did not bat an eyelash about founding a new congregation of priests before he had even begun his own ministry (L 5).

Saint Louis Marie’s insistence on “God Alone” is also considered to be another of his faults. It is said that he risked forgetting that he was a human person who needed to love other persons. But such words and phrases should not be taken out of context. To say that Montfort had little regard for himself as a person, or for his neighbor, is clearly contradicted by even a superficial glance at his life and writings. Montfort insisted: “Though God perform a work, / And we do nothing there, / still must we perform it / indeed, and do it well” (H 26:21).

Again, he asked that the Daughters of Wisdom “abandon themselves to the care of God’s divine Providence, . . . as though they expected to receive food and care directly from an angel sent from heaven.” Yet, that they “undertake manual work to help earn their living, as though they expected nothing from God” (RW 29).

Such open-minded care is scarcely compatible with the fault with which Father de Montfort is most reproached: his “individualism.” His Sulpician masters, for whom the term “individual” was synonymous with “stubborn,” showed no pity in seeking to rid their disciples of such singular tendencies. Toward the end of his life, in 1714, his friend Blain reproached him: “‘But where, in the Gospel,’ I told him, ‘will you find instances and examples of these unusual individualistic ways of yours?’“16 Montfort in response made a distinction between three kinds of individualism: the first was from personality, temperament or nature, the second was evangelical, and the third might be called missionary. If it was the first, he would be helped to notice it for he would be humiliated by it—which would prove useful. If it was the second, it was a fault possessed by every saint in helping them to avoid conforming to worldly wisdom. Third, if it was the third it would tend to support his becoming a better missionary by avoiding settling down in one community.”17

4. Meaning of These Virtues and Their Unity

Having thus considered the criticisms made of Montfort for his lack of “humanness,” perhaps now it might be helpful to reflect briefly on all of his virtues.

a. Virtues and holiness.

First, all of the virtues practiced by Montfort should not be confused with his holiness. His friend Blain, who admired him so much, spoke of the “mystery” of Louis Grignion. Blain wrote: “He was an avowed saint, and his praises were sung now for his great modesty, now for his recollection, now for his humility, often for his great mortification and his austerities, at other times for his love of poverty and the poor, for his charity and his zeal, and especially for his great tenderness and devotion toward the Blessed Virgin. And you ask whether he trod the path of the saints?”18

“He is most humble,” declared Father Leschassier, “very poor, very mortified, very recollected. And yet I find it difficult to believe that he is led by the good Spirit.”19 Almost all of his life, to be sure, according to his friend Blain, Montfort posed “a problem for spiritual persons.”20 This problem has been solved, in a sense, by Louis Marie’s canonization. But at least we are reminded that holiness is not a collection of virtues. Holiness consists in the practice of the theological virtues, whose pathway is more one of beatitude than virtue. It is a path of “poverty of heart,” and it is compatible with many a fault. The secret of this path is hidden from the prideful and revealed to the humble. For Montfort the path was his consecration to Jesus through Mary.

b. Virtues and devotion to Mary.

Devotion to the Virgin Mary is without doubt a virtue, and in the classic sense of the term. Within all of Louis Marie’s virtues (including the theological ones), and within his holiness, there is the great secret of his consecration. Had Montfort merely been content in acquiring and practicing virtue at the price of a demanding asceticism, he would have “sculpted his statue” and never succeeded in “forming Jesus” in a way that was “natural” (cf. TD 220). He did better than that: he let himself be led by the Holy Spirit (TD 258). Montfort was a very “mortified” person, and his mortifications doubtless were beyond what saints normally imposed on themselves. But the profoundest mortification that he chose was his spiritual asceticism, which consisted in his becoming a soul “thoroughly tractable, entirely detached, most ready to be molded in [Mary] by the Holy Spirit,” without any reliance on its “own skill and industry” (SM 20), casting itself into Mary, “the ‘living mold of God’” (SM 18, citing St. Augustine).

With the devotion to the Mother of God, one might say that, in Louis Marie, the virtue of mortification shifted: it was spiritualized, deepened. In renouncing self-reliance, and a life lived of himself, he installed death (and hence life) at the very wellspring of his being. He did this in order that it might no longer be he who lived, but Mary (and hence Jesus) who lived in him. With the consecration to Jesus through Mary, it could be said that Montfort’s mysticism becomes asceticism.

c. Meaning and unity of Montfort’s virtues.

We should see Montfort’s life of virtue and holiness in the light of the consecration. In this way we will better understand what the practice of virtue meant to him. For him virtues were not just a series of habits to be acquired or commandments to be observed. They were the practice of that “necessary and fruitful death,” without which it is impossible to bear fruit (TD 81); to put it positively, they establish within the person, the life and mind of Jesus, incarnate Wisdom (Ph 2:5).

These virtues find another source of unity, as it were, in a focus on mission. Montfort practiced humility, obedience, and poverty, to the point of appearing to be a fool in the eyes of the world. He did so, of course, because these were the virtues of Jesus and he wanted to live them in his own life. But he also chose to live them because he was a missionary. Missionaries did not come from themselves, nor did they proclaim themselves. In order to be someone truly sent, and not to proclaim oneself but He who sends, one must be humble, poor and obedient. One must live what he preaches.

II. MONTFORT AND THE VIRTUES

This section considers the virtues Montfort taught and preached.

1. The “Treatise on the Virtues” in Father de Montfort’s Hymns

We find a first listing of the virtues in LEW: “When Eternal Wisdom communicates himself to a soul, he gives that soul . . . all the great virtues to an eminent degree. They are: the theological virtues—lively faith, firm hope, ardent charity; the cardinal virtues—well-ordered temperance, complete prudence, perfect justice, invincible fortitude; the moral virtues—perfect religion, profound humility, pleasing gentleness, blind obedience, complete detachment, continuous mortification, sublime prayer, etc.” (LEW 99).

In the Hymns one finds a far more complete collection of virtues. If we count as virtues mental and vocal prayer, contempt for the world, the cross (as a way of life), praise, thanksgiving, and so on, then we may say that Father de Montfort sings the virtues in nearly 80 of the 164 hymns; i.e., almost half.

A possible catalogue of the hymns on the virtues would be the following:

(a.) Hymn on virtue in general: “Esteem and Desire of Virtue” (H 1).

(b.) Eleven hymns on the theological virtues—faith: “Lights of Faith” (H 6); hope: firmness of hope (H 7), “Joys of Paradise” (H 116); charity: generally, “Excellence of Charity” (H 5); love of God: “New Canticle on the Love of God” (H 135, 138), “Serving God in the Spirit” (H 153); love of neighbor: “Tenderness of Charity” (H 14), “Hymn of Charity” (H 148); love for the poor: value of alms (H 17), “Cries of the Poor” (H 18).

(c.) Forty hymns on the moral virtues—one on the virtue of religion: “Service of God in Spirit and Truth” (H 153); four on the virtue of humility: “Splendor of Humility” (H 8), “Good Odor of Modesty” (H 25), “Children’s Great Lesson” (H 97), “New Canticle of the Poor in Spirit” (H 144); two on the virtue of trust: “Abandonment to Providence” (H 28), “Miseries of this Life, and Trust in God” (H 114); one on the virtue of graciousness: “Charms of Graciousness” (H 9); one on the virtue of obedience: “Merit of Obedience” (H 10); one on the virtue of patience: “Strength of Patience” (H 11); one on the virtue of chastity: “Beauty of Virginity” (H 12); four on the virtue of penitence: “Need for Penitence” (H 13), “Power of Fasting” (H 16), “The Penitent Who Loved Much” (H 94); “Specific Nature of Tepidity” (H 161); four on the virtue of mental and vocal prayer: “Splendors of Prayer” (H 15), “Wisdom of Silence” (H 23), “Holy Practice of the Presence of God” (H 24), “New Canticle on Solitude” (H 157); one on devotion to Mary: “Zealous Devotee of Mary” (H 80); two on the virtue of poverty: “Treasures of Poverty” (H 20), “Treasures of Poverty,” once more (H 108); one on the virtue of gratitude: “Duties of Gratitude” (H 26); fourteen on contempt for the world: “Misfortunes of the World” (H 29), “Snares of the World: Games of Chance” (H 30), “Dancing and Balls” (H 31), “Comedy and Shows” (H 32), “Luxury” (H 33), “Human Respect” (H 34–39), “Condemnation of the World” (H 106), “Farewell, Mad World!” (H 107), “Vanities of the World” (H 156); three on the mystery of the cross: “Triumph of the Cross” (H 19, 102); “Treasures of the Cross” (H 123).

(d.) Nine hymns on the virtues to be practiced in certain conditions of life—For religious: “To the Religious of the Visitation” (H 48), “The Good Sisters of the Third Orders” (H 92), “To the Daughters of Wisdom” (H 149); for virgins: “Beauty of Virginity” (H 12); for children: “The Good Child” (H 93); for soldiers: “The Good Soldier” (H 95); for prisoners: “The Good Prisoner” (H 96); for shepherdesses (and country folk): “The Good Shepherdess” (H 99); for married persons: “New Canticle for the Christian Wedding” (H 146).

(e.) Sixteen hymns on virtues to be practiced in certain situations— for persons afflicted with scruples: “The Scrupulous Person Converted” (H 45); for persons who live in affliction: “Consolation of the Afflicted” (H 46, 100, 101); for persons undergoing trials: “Strength of Patience” (H 11), “Miseries of this Life and Trust in God” (H 114); for persons to whom a mission is being preached: “Christ’s Call to the Sinner to Take Advantage of the Mission” (H 105), “The Mission Opens” (H 115), “Wake-Up Call of the Mission” (H 163); for converted sinners: “The Sinner Converted by Mary’s Intercession” (H 79), “Rule for a Converted Person” (H 139), “The Converted Sinner” (H 140), “Resolutions of a Converted Sinner” (H 142), “Canticle on the Conversion of a Worldly Woman” (H 143), “The True Christian” (H 154); for persons on pilgrimage: “Holy Journey” (H 162).

(f.) Three hymns on the apostolic virtues: “Flames of Zeal” (H 21), “Resolutions and Prayers of a Missionary Perfected and Zealous” (H 22), “The Good Missionary” (H 91).

This catalogue is incomplete. Furthermore, some hymns are listed twice, since they illustrate two categories of virtues. Finally, some hymns that are prayers rather than expositions have been omitted.

Although the theological virtues are certainly represented, there is no specific hymn devoted to a cardinal virtue. It must be remembered that the Hymns are not the only works of Montfort which present the virtues. The Sermons speak of them, as well, and, in a sense, the missioner’s entire work is organized in function of them.

2. Virtues of the Christian and the apostle

It would impossible here to illustrate every virtue whose praises Montfort sang. The texts themselves should be thoroughly studied. Here we indicate certain key Christian virtues of the Christian, especially those that are uniquely apostolic.

a. Virtues of the Christian.

Faith, hope, and love.

Faith, hope, and love bring one to God so strongly that, in a sense, they “overcome” God. Faith, especially Mary’s, and her love, actually attract and “force” God: “‘So great was the love of Mary,’ explains St. Augustine, ‘that it conquered the omnipotent God’—O quantus amor illius qui vincit omnipotentem” (LEW 107).

Humility.

Humility may be the most important moral virtue for Montfort. In the “earthly paradise of the new Adam,” the cardinal virtues are but the four branches of the great “river of humility that gushes forth from the soil” (TD 261). Humility, too, like the theological virtues, has the power to attract God, to overcome or “surmount” God: “He is insurmountable, / but the humble one is His conqueror; / with an ineffable strength, / that one wins His heart” (H 8:4).

Bound up with obedience, humility enables its practitioner to “make more progress in virtue than others” (RW 64). At one with the Beatitude of “poverty of heart,” such a soul becomes like a theological virtue. The soul reaches God all the more easily for God’s incarnation in Jesus reveals God to her, and fills her with humility. “Humility” becomes a synonym for “perfection.” The true devotion that Montfort undertakes to explain “is more perfect,” Montfort makes bold to say, “because it supposes a greater humility to approach God through a mediator rather than directly by ourselves” (TD 83).

Trust and abandonment.

From humility a whole constellation of virtues emanate: poverty, trust, abandonment to divine Providence. All have their goal in the withdrawal of the Christian from self in order to become open to the other. It is an experience of total letting go into the hands of the Father. There is no contempt for action here. One must toil at the work of God, and “toil well” (H 28:21), as if one expected nothing of God (RW 29). But one should preserve sufficient openness of spirit not to forget that activity, important as it is, is never anything but a “virginity” in need of fecundation by the Spirit in order to bear fruit.

When, in TD, Montfort describes the behavior of the predestined, he cites the virtues that seem to him to be important for the Christian. Christians are interior persons. They have a taste for retreat and prayer. “It is true, at times they do venture out into the world, but only . . . in obedience”; doubtless because we are ourselves more obviously in action than in prayer (TD 196; cf. 187, 191). They rely not on themselves, but on God and Mary (TD 186, 194, 199). They are submissive and obedient (TD 193, 198). They imitate the Blessed Virgin (TD 195, 200), and love her (TD 193, 197).

b. Virtues of the apostle.

Every Christian must be an apostle. The virtues of the one are the virtues of the other. But it is possible to single out some more typically apostolic virtues.

Zeal.

Zeal is the shape of a love become a missionary love. Montfort sings of a raging “fire” with which he would have all apostles burn. “No single hour can I rest, / nor sit one minute still: / I see Jesus offended!” (H 22:12). “Might I see this soul [my neighbor’s], so lovely, / fall into death everlasting? / I had rather be anathema. Ah, Lord, they all outrage you / in the human being, your beautiful image! / Shall I keep silent? Shall I bear it? / Rather death itself!” (H 22:2–3)

When we prefer to die, or even to be separated from Jesus, rather than see a neighbor going to perdition; when I am able to declare: “I am ready to sacrifice my time, my health and my life for the souls of the poor in this neglected house” (L 6); or when I can tell someone who threatens me with death, “I had rather a thousand times the salvation of your soul than ten thousand lives like mine”21 —then I shall be a “perfected, zealous missionary” in the spirit of Montfort (H 22).

Freedom.

“Freedom” could be the name of a whole cluster of apostolic virtues: detachment, poverty, abandonment to divine providence, obedience. The apostle must be detached from all things, not only in order to be “free as the clouds that sail high above the earth, . . . according to the inspiration of the Spirit” (PM 9), but also the better to let Christ shine through us and act of himself. “What, then, am I asking for?” cries Montfort in the burning Prayer for Missionaries. “Priests who are free with the freedom that comes from you, detached from everything, without father, mother, brothers, sisters or relatives and friends as the world and the flesh understand them, without worldly possessions to encumber or distract them, and devoid of all self interest” (PM 7). The virtue of poverty is significant in this respect. It permits us to remove ourselves from all that prevents us from depending on God and on others. Shall we therefore fall back into slavery? By no means. If we depend completely on God, we shall be able to, and shall actually, work “prodigies of grace.”22

Prayer:

Prayer may not be directly a virtue. Saint Thomas sees it as an act of the virtue of religion.23 But Father de Montfort asks his missioners to apply themselves to it “unceasingly,” as well as to study, “that they may obtain from God the gift of wisdom so necessary to a true preacher for knowing and relishing the truth and getting others to relish it” (RM 60). “It is the easiest thing in the world,” he adds, “to be a fashionable preacher. It is a difficult but sublime thing to be able to preach with the inspiration of an apostle” (RM 60), “under the impulse of divine Wisdom” (LEW 97), with words “that go from the heart of the one through whom he speaks straight to the heart of the listener” (LEW 96). But such a gift, for the apostle, is the fruit of toil and prayer (RM 60).

Finally, prayer, in the form of “devotion to the Virgin Mary,” enables the apostle to join the grand combat between light and darkness, plunging into the very heart of the conflict with the weapons of God (TD 54).

3. Reflection on the Meaning of These Virtues and Their Unity

a. Virtues and virtue.

In the seventeenth century, the word “virtue” in the singular had a very different meaning from the plural. In the singular it denoted a strength. It is masculine (the Latin virtus): it wells up from the depths of being and expresses that being. We have it in Hymn 4, “Esteem and Desire of Virtue in General”: the “virtue of God,” the divine “vapor of His everlasting glory” (H 4:2), which we are called to take as our teacher, is the very love, or holiness, or wisdom, of God.24 In the plural, the “virtues” are closer to what we call “virtues” today.

With Father de Montfort, it is also necessary to set the virtues in relationship with a whole series of realities which he calls the “graces of God” (LEW 207), which are all contained in “Wisdom” (LEW 206). Montfort likes to associate virtues with graces, frequently in phrases consisting of three members (sometimes in correspondence with the persons of the Trinity): virtues and graces (TD 173, 174); virtues, graces, and lights (TD 119); virtues, graces, and perfections: In Jesus alone “dwells the entire fullness of the divinity and the complete fullness of grace, virtue and perfection” (TD 61); virtues, merits, and good works (TD 121, 122); virtues, graces, and treasures (TD 178). In Hymn 4, virtue comes from the Father: it has been expressed by Jesus, and it is the Spirit who brings us to it (H 4:2–3, 6).

b. Virtues of the Christian and those of the world.

When Montfort invites us to enter into the Wisdom of God, he is quite aware that this Wisdom of Love is altogether opposed to that of the world, which itself has created a universe completely contrary to that of the Gospel (LEW 199). The world, too, has such “virtues as courage, finesse, tactfulness, shrewdness, gallantry, politeness and good humor. It stigmatizes as serious offenses, insensitiveness, stupidity, poverty, boorishness and bigotry” (LEW 77). But the world is not content to oppose the Gospel. Its wickedness runs deeper. It actually cloaks sin under the appearance of virtue, and virtue under the appearance of sin. “In general,” the worldly “do not teach sin openly, but they speak of it as if it were virtuous, or blameless, or a matter of indifference” (LEW 199). A hymn like the one on the “Axioms of the World” (H 39) shows vividly how “worldly” persons can attack new converts by showing them that their virtues are nothing but sin: “Drop that meditation! / ‘Tis a dangerous thing. / It can be a temptation: / woe to the lazy soul!” (H 39:135).

One senses a particular resentment in Montfort for that prototype of worldly virtues, the seventeenth-century “honest man” or “wise man” of the world (LEW 76). Papàsogli has marvelously described this virtuous person: “[Here is] the person of calculation, not risk—who will never know the irrevocable generosity of ‘going for broke’; the person of the useful, not of piety. . . . It is not the great darkness of the world [that guides this person], but the ‘bourgeois’ side, and the common measure; not atheism, but a diminished God, shrunken to the skimpy measure of human selfishness.”25

At bottom, it is not so much the “libertine,” such as Molière’s Don Juan, that Montfort resents, but precisely this “honest man.” Don Juan at least had the merit of being frank, while the “wise man” of the world (LEW 76) has replaced holiness with the appearance of virtue, and the folly of the cross with a human equilibrium made up by and large of social conventions. In the eyes of this “fool of God” who is Montfort, the great sin is the tepidity and compromise of anyone who dares try to make the world agree with the Gospel.

c. Virtues and love.

It might seem surprising that, in his list of virtues, Montfort has so little room for the four “cardinal” ones: prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. True, no hymn is specially reserved for them. But prudence is not neglected: Montfort recommends it in almsgiving (H 17:41), in mortification (LEW 202), and even in zeal (H 22:20). Are not certain virtues, like modesty (H 25) and obedience (H 10), forms of prudence? And is not also “wisdom” the authenticity, and immense prudence of love? Likewise, while Montfort speaks little of social justice, emphasizing instead charity toward the poor. Their cry, which he makes his own, is a cry for that justice: “Know that what you hold so fast, / when no longer of use to you, / belongs to the poor. Those things are theirs! / You owe them that gilded furniture, / those precious pearls!” (H 17:18). And let us not forget that our consecration to Jesus through Mary is itself a matter of justice, even before being an affair of love (TD 68:142; SM 68). Nor is fortitude ignored: it is only another name for “graciousness” (H 9) and “patience” (H 11), the courage to face “the world, the demon, and the flesh” (PS 20). Fortitude is the virtue diametrically opposed to the notorious “human respect,” which is composed of nothing but “fear,” which Montfort vigorously combats (H 34–39).

Thus, if St. Louis Marie speaks so little of the cardinal virtues, it is surely because these virtues are essentially qualities of balance and measure. While for him the attractive, magnetic thing is the great imbalance: the grand folly of love, manifested in Jesus’ Cross. Not for nothing did Montfort laud this “Queen of virtues” (H 5:5) in eight Hymns. Without it, life is useless (H 5:18), sanctification impossible (H 5:6), and virtue itself sin (H 5:12). But with love, not only do all virtues take on meaning and life, they also become easy and sweet to practice (H 5:7), since they are loved: “Love makes me love obedience, / seek poverty, / flee pleasures, / embrace suffering” (H 45:20).

d. Virtues and the consecration.

This theological love is at once the motive, the fruit, and the goal of our consecration to Mary in the spirit of Montfort. It is the motive because consecration ought to be “moved by generous love” (TD 73), the love at work in “one who loves God with a pure and unselfish love” (TD 151). After all, faith has revealed to this person that he or she is loved by God, that “Jesus, our great friend has given himself (first) without reserve, body and soul.” Our consecration is ever but love’s response to a first Love that has, so to speak, beaten us to it. Among the fruits of this consecration, its “wondrous effects,” we find the “pure love of which Mary is the treasury.” Mary, that “Mother of fair love, will rid your heart of all scruples and inordinate servile fear” (TD 215). Finally, the goal of the consecration is not primarily our own interest, not even our spiritual interest (TD 110), but, as always, love, since its two main ends are to “honor and imitate the wondrous dependence which God the Son chose to have on Mary,” and to “thank God for the incomparable graces he has conferred upon Mary” (TD 243).

In focusing our minds and hearts on this gratuitous love, the consecration is the font of its costly demands. It delivers us from a too moralistic asceticism. To be sure, we must do violence to ourselves, as the saying goes, in order to acquire the virtues and practice them. Montfort was very severe with those “presumptuous devotees” who renounce “any great effort to correct” their faults (literally, “without doing great violence to themselves in order that they be corrected”), “believing that their devotion to our Lady gives them this sort of liberty” (TD 97). “Nothing in our Christian religion is so deserving of condemnation” (TD 98). But the virtues are primarily to be received directly, like love, from she who has practiced them to perfection in order to share them, for she is our Mother. Mary who “shares her virtues” with the one who has succeeded in delivering and despoiling himself from that to which he is most attached, receives “her humility, faith, purity, etc.” (TD 144), and a great trust in God (TD 216).

In the end, Father de Montfort invites us not so much to practice our own virtues as to make a gift of them. For three great reasons, he calls us to offer them up together with all of our other interior and spiritual goods and with our merits and our good works (TD 121). The first reason is that, if our good works are impure and sullied by self- love (SM 49), and secret pride (RW 159), then the tree that has produced this fruit must itself be pruned and purified. “There is no such thing as a good tree producing worthless fruit” (Lk 6:43). The tree of our virtues must be tended, that our works may be purified. The second reason is that it takes a great deal of love to give everything and keep nothing back. We must establish and enthrone love from the outset and give up everything there and then. Finally, if I want my life to be Christian—that is, to be the actual life of Christ in me—then it must be his own virtues that lead me, his own spirit, his own wisdom that guide me. “If the Spirit is the source of our life, let the Spirit also direct our course” (Ga 5:25).

What does Mary do when we have given her our virtues? She purifies them, she strips us of them, like old garments, to clothe us “in the clean, new, precious and fragrant garments of . . . her Son Jesus Christ.” That is, she dispenses to us his “merits and virtues” (TD 206). And since she adds her own as well, we are, as Montfort says, “clothed with double garments, her own and those of her Son” (TD 206).

III. VIRTUES OF MARY

Mary is not only the prefiguring of the Church (LG 63), she is the perfect model of all of the virtues of a Christian (LG 65). She is also the mother who shares them with us in the life that the Holy Spirit gives us through her. Therefore it is of the greatest importance for us to study her virtues as Montfort presented them.

1. Virtues of Mary

In TD 108 we find a list of the “ten principal virtues” of Mary: her “deep humility, lively faith, blind obedience, unceasing prayer, constant self-denial, surpassing purity, ardent love, heroic patience, angelic kindness, and heavenly wisdom.” In TD 144, Father de Montfort refers to this list, taking up three virtues that are reemphasized further on: “her lively faith, . . . her deep humility, . . . her truly divine purity” (TD 260). In LEW, he shows us a Mary wise, charitable, generous, faithful, and so on (LEW 222). There are other lists as well (TD 34, 261; LEW 107; SM 15). On the basis of these various listings, we may make three observations:

(a.) While charity occasionally occurs in a list, in Mary “love” is above everything. This is evident whenever Montfort crisply distinguishes between the love with which Mary inflames us and “her virtues” which she shares with us and in which we find faith (TD 144).

(b.) Aside from love, we may say that Mary’s three main virtues are faith, humility, and purity: By her lively faith, she believed the angel’s word without the least hesitation, and believed faithfully and constantly even to the foot of the Cross on Calvary. Her deep humility made her prefer seclusion, maintain silence, and submit to every eventuality and put herself in the last place. Her truly divine purity has not and will not be equaled this side of heaven (TD 260).

(c.) These three key virtues seem to have, in Montfort’s eyes, a kind of theological scope: faith, of course, but humility and purity as well. All three, joined in Mary to “her ceaseless entreaties of love,” had the effect not only of touching God, as it were, but of actually attracting or seducing God, as it were, “conquering” God! “She had won his heart” (LEW 107). “Her humility, deep as an abyss, delighted him (se charma26). Her purity so other-worldly drew him to her. He found her lively faith and her ceaseless entreaties of love so irresistible that he was lovingly conquered by her appeals of love” (LEW 107).

The better to grasp their range and purview, it will be useful to see all of these virtues of Mary in a single panorama. There are not only “the depths of her profound humility,” there is also “the height of her merits, . . . the breadth of her love, . . . the greatness of the power which she wields over one who is God” (TD 7). Furthermore, Montfort associates Mary’s virtues with her privileges, her actions, and her grandeur (TD 115). On a deeper level, he links them, especially her faith and her love, to her motherhood, which is not primarily a reality of flesh, but a deed and work of the Spirit who finds faith and love: “Christian, through Mary’s heart / you love the heart of Jesus, / for Jesus has taken life in her heart and her virtues. (H 40:35).

Happily, Mary’s virtues are inseparable from her life, her being, her calling—her whole person, invested by the Spirit who is faith, hope, love.

2. Mary and the Virtues

It is not only a matter of discovering Mary’s virtues. We must also wonder what they mean in relation to us. For us, Mary is a model of virtues, to be imitated, and a “treasurer” (LEW 207), a mother who shares them with us.

a. Mary, model of the Christian virtues.

The imitation of the Blessed Virgin’s virtues is for Montfort one of the characteristics of the “predestined” and one of the interior practices of the consecration. Like little Jacob in the Bible with respect to his mother, Rebecca, the predestined “keep to the ways of the Blessed Virgin, their loving Mother—that is, they imitate her and so are sincerely happy” (TD 200). Without this imitation, devotion to Mary would be but “exterior,” and thereby false (TD 96).

“We must look upon Mary . . . as the perfect model of every virtue and perfection, fashioned by the Holy Spirit for us to imitate, as far as our limited capacity allows” (TD 260). This is also one of the interior practices of the consecration. In order to “do everything with Mary, . . . in every action . . . we should consider how Mary performed it or how she would perform it if she were in our place,” and therefore “examine and meditate on the great virtues she practiced” (TD 260). In the same passage in which he speaks of living “with Mary” and taking her as our model, Montfort adds that “Mary is the great, unique mold of God, designed to make living images of God” (TD 219). This plainly shows that, in his eyes, to imitate the virtues of the Mother of Jesus is much more than to strive, by oneself, to resemble an external model while keeping control of the experience. On the contrary, this imitation means allowing ourselves to be transformed by the model that then becomes a “mold” to shape us (TD 219–20; SM 16–18). When all is said and done, it is less a matter of “gazing upon” than of being gazed upon. It is more a matter of allowing oneself to be molded by the image contemplated than to mold oneself to its likeness.

b. Mary, mother who shares her virtues.

This image of the “mold” that is Mary, who fashions us to the image of her Son, paves the way to better understanding that she is not only a model, but also a mother, who communicates her own virtues. Actually, this sharing of virtues is part of an entire series of phenomena that might be called the gift that Mary makes of herself in response to the one we make of our persons (by consecrating ourselves to Jesus through her). “She gives herself completely in a wondrous manner” to “someone giving himself entirely to her” (TD 144; cf. 216). But in giving herself to her “consecrated one,” she is not content to share her virtues with her devotee: “She engulfs him in the ocean of her graces, adorns him with her merits, supports him with her power, enlightens him with her light, and fills him with her love” (TD 144). And Mary bestows not only her own virtues, but also, as we have seen, those of Jesus (SM 38; TD 206).

All of this helps us to understand that it is not so much that the Mother of God communicates to us a whole arsenal of virtues, but rather that she shares a life, shapes a face, to which no “feature of Jesus Christ” (SM 17) is lacking. She gives birth to a person, that of Jesus. All of the blessings that she shares with us so “generously” are naught in comparison with “that infinite treasure which contains every good, Jesus” (LEW 206), and “of her fullness we have all received” (LEW 207). The virtues she shares with us are already the traits of the face of Wisdom, that fruit of her faith and the Holy Spirit.

IV. VIRTUES OF JESUS

May we speak of the virtues of Jesus, who is God? Are not virtues rather a possession of the Church, something attaching to the response of love of the children of God to the antecedent love of the Father, manifested in Jesus? Are the virtues not part of the spiritual equipment that the Christian receives with the grace of baptism? And yet, beyond the shadow of a doubt, one may speak—however briefly—of the virtues of God and Jesus.

1. Virtues of God

Although in the seventeenth century the word “virtue” does not always have the same meaning that we give it today, Montfort does not hesitate to speak of the “virtue of God” (H 4:4), which is nothing else but God’s love, wisdom, or holiness. “All that is . . . virtuous in God,” he says elsewhere, is “invested in” the one who attains to the carrying of his or her cross (LEW 179). “God of goodness, give me / the virtues of your heart!” (H 4:21).

It is interesting, for example, to observe that Hymns 4 (“Virtue in General”), 5 (“Charity”), and the hymn on the Holy Spirit (H 141), are almost perfectly parallel. God’s virtue, indeed, is love—God’s very nature (1 Jn 4:8–16): generated in the divine heart from all eternity, this virtue has complete authority over God, since it is this that has led God to become a human being on earth (H 5:3–4). But if God is love and nothing else, it would doubtless be better to speak not of the divine “virtues,” but of the “attributes” of God: justice, graciousness, mercy, and so on—or, therefore, to say that all of God’s virtues are contained in the divine love.

The greatest virtue that this love contains is surely, in Montfort’s eyes, humility. True, Montfort never speaks explicitly of the humility of God.27 But the “poverty” of the divine heart is everywhere present. If the Triune God, in the wisdom of love (Father, Son, and Spirit), has willed to depend upon Mary not only in order to effect the wonder of the Incarnation, but also to continue its mystery today in the Church, it is because God is humble. Humility is not only a human virtue, which inclines us to approach God only through mediators (TD 143). It is also, and principally, a divine virtue—the virtue that has inclined the Almighty, in Jesus, to work the marvel of a God who “made himself nothing,” in Mary’s womb, and thereupon “in obedience accepted even death—death on a cross” (Ph 2:7–8).

2. Virtues of Jesus

It is this humility, as well, that we must emphasize if we wish to speak of the virtues of Jesus. Of course, Wisdom itself is only love—“the very love of the Father and the Holy Spirit” (LEW 118). Then it is in this love that the fullness of the virtues dwells, like that of the graces and the perfections (TD 61), and the Heart of Jesus is the sole source of all of the virtues (H 130:8). But his humanity, molded and reared by Mary, the “Queen of the virtues” (H 4:22), and Joseph, comes forward as our “only model” (TD 61). Among all of Jesus’ virtues, Montfort especially loves to underscore his humility, which is only part and parcel of his obedience and graciousness, which in turn are identical with his charity and his wisdom.

His humility.

Montfort contemplates Christ’s humility especially in the three great mysteries of the Incarnation, the Cross, and the Eucharist. It is humility that “reduces” the Word to silence and God to infancy (H 57:1). It is humility that, still today, “Draws him from glory, / to hide his majesty / in a poor ciborium,” (H 130:4) and makes of God, in the mystery of the poor, “the neediest / of all the wretched” (H 17:15).

His obedience.

“Of all the Savior’s virtues / the very exemplar, the miracle / midmost in his heart” (H 10:5). After all, it is in being obedient not only to his Father, but to Mary and Joseph as well, that Jesus has rendered glory to God and has saved human beings (TD 139).

His tenderness.

In LEW, Montfort has devoted no less than two chapters to Jesus’ “graciousness”: We find the actual word, “meekness,” (tenderness, graciousness) at least forty-five times. We see how sensitive the one they called the “good Father from Montfort” was to this characteristic of Jesus’ love for children, the poor, and especially, sinners (LEW 10, 11:124, 125).

His charity.

We should have to cite all of the hymns to the Heart of Jesus (H 40– 44, 47) in order to illustrate that “infinite charity” by which Jesus “became our security and our Mediator with his Father” (TD 85), that charity which has led him to give himself to us wholly and entirely, “body and soul” (TD 138), and impels us today to “Undertake / a grand return of love” (H 128:6).

His wisdom.

Provided we regard wisdom as a virtue (after all, it is also a gift, and Father de Montfort identifies it with the very person of Jesus), wisdom is that prudence of love that has inspired and animated all of the Savior’s choices, in contrast with the wisdom of the world. In being willing to become “nothing” and to depend upon Mary, in freely living the great scandal of the cross, Jesus has experienced the greatest of the wisdoms, that of love. In identifying Jesus with the virtue of wisdom and the experience of his cross (“Wisdom is the Cross and the Cross is Wisdom,” LEW 180), Montfort plainly shows that Jesus’ virtues are not distinct from his person and his life. In Jesus, virtues and life are one.

V. MONTFORT VIRTUES TODAY

Can Montfort’s teaching on the virtues, and the manner in which he lived them, be of interest to us today? Surely, various aspects of what Montfort—the man of the Absolute—practiced and taught seem difficult to accept for our world. However, the Montfort doctrine and practice of the virtues are filled with solid directions for our contemporary world and offer support to the ongoing reform of the Church. Finally, prescinding from a baroque style and expressions inevitably marked by his age, Montfort’s life and message present some useful reminders for today.

1. Some Difficulties

Contemporary Christians find Montfort’s practice of the virtues excessive. The Christian life is for everyone, Blain said, but Montfort’s life, “so poor, so harsh, so abandoned to Providence, was . . . for extraordinary persons, and not for the common person, who could not reach so high.”28 Examples of Montfort’s unique actions appear excessive, like drinking from the same glass as a person with a contagious disease. It is mortification beyond a doubt, but, in order to overcome ourselves, must we actually drink the pus that had just drained from a sick person, as an early biographer claims Montfort had done?29 It is true, as well, that Jesus asked persons to leave their families to follow him, but must this detachment be pushed to the point of not visiting our parents when we are actually in town?30 True, these actions can only be judged in their full context, which is impossible to reconstruct today. Nonetheless, they are for modern men and women definitely excessive.

Do not all of these virtues Montfort explains (thirty or more, in the Hymns) bring us to the practice of the Law—a legalism—from which the Spirit ought to deliver us? Today we would prefer to replace this morality by love alone—or perhaps by the simplicity of the Beatitudes.

Whatever the worth of these arguments may be, it cannot be denied that an entire generation today has trouble accepting virtues like humility and obedience. They seem to encourage a certain passivity, or to foster a destruction of the person, since they involve a self-abasement and a dependency, which might appear to prevent one from “being oneself.” Are human beings so wicked that they need such a great number of virtues in order to set their nature right? What is needed, it is claimed, is a bit more confidence in human beings and in life: as the saying goes, “just let it all happen!” And what is this “slavery” that Montfort teaches? How can it be meaningful to moderns who thirst for freedom?

Much of the misunderstanding of Saint Louis de Montfort is due to the fact that his words are strong, if not shocking. They imitate the Gospel. Regrettably Montfort’s thoughts are often considered piecemeal instead of taken as a whole. But it cannot be forgotten that “the good Father from Montfort” truly stands out in the history of hagiography as an outstanding saint. To follow him is to imitate Jesus without any “ifs” or “buts.” Montfort does not go “beyond” the Gospel; he lives it to the hilt as we must do in our generation, in our times, in our context.

2. Effective Directions for Today

The virtues that Montfort practiced and taught do have a role to play in contemporary society. First, they find an echo in a whole series of current values. Modern theology (especially spiritual theology) comes very close to Montfort in its insistence on the three theological virtues, especially love and hope, which are the very basis of the “consecration.” We likewise observe in many of our contemporaries a great thirst to serve freely, out of love for our brothers and sisters, doubtless in reaction to a world of output and profit that crushes us. In response to this thirst, Montfort proposes the wholly disinterested character of true love, whether in devotion to Mary (TD 110), in apostolic zeal (H 21:22), or in service to the poor (H 17:42–43). In reaction, as well, to a hard, aggressive, pitiless world, we hear so much today about “gentleness.” Montfort, for his part, speaks of douceur, gentleness or tenderness, and most of all of the irresistible gentleness or graciousness of Jesus Wisdom: “Nothing is so gracious as Eternal Wisdom” (LEW 53). But he also lauds the gentleness, the graciousness of Mary, and that of devotion to her: true devotion to Our Lady is tender and trustful (TD 107). Finally, the “preferential option for the poor,” which is one of the official choices of the Church today, and of so many religious congregations, corresponds completely to Montfort’s symbolic gesture in crossing the bridge of Cesson that day when, according to a biographer, he “crossed over to the poor.”31

Above and beyond all of the virtues that Montfort explicitly names, there is one that particularly enchants the young of today (as it has those of all times), as well as those new communities so eager for the absolute, striving for a somewhat “foolish” or “insane” way of living the Gospel of the Crucified One. It could well be called the virtue of radicalism. The Gospel is a book of life. We have no right to be satisfied with reading it without putting it into practice, “as is” (without seeking to accommodate it to our comforts), here and now. It is this Montfort radicalism, this absolutely total living of the Gospel which so attracts young people today. Does Jesus ask us to invite to our table “the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” (Lk 14:14)? Montfort attends a big family dinner with his friends: every vagrant he can find.32 Has Jesus not said, “When I was ill you came to my help. . . . Anything you did for one of my brothers here, however humble, you did for me” (Mt 25:36–40)? At Poitiers, Louis Marie undertakes to care personally for a pauper “covered with infection, . . . rejected by all public medical personnel, on the point of being abandoned and ejected from the general hospital—the poor house.” He offers him “all of the services required by a disease so dangerous and so disgusting, . . . right up to the moment of death,”33 for this pauper is “Jesus Christ himself” (H 17:14). Many of the objections mentioned above have another side to the coin: they tug at the heart of a young person who wants to give all. It is not a question of the specific examples of Montfort’s total giving of self; it is rather the determination to avoid, like Montfort, any half-way measures.

Two other aspects of the “Treatise on the Virtues” can help us a great deal today. First, their insistence on the virtue (or gift) of wisdom, that compendium of the whole of Montfort moral thought. Perhaps we should recognize that we live a fool’s life when we claim to be in quest of evangelical wisdom. And so it is with great joy that our contemporaries (even unbelievers!) discover that the virtues Montfort invites them to practice, such as humility and even faith, are also and first of all divine virtues. Does not the just one, according to TD, live by the faith of Jesus (TD 109)?

3. Useful reminders for today

It has been observed that, when Montfort speaks to us of faith and love, quite often he adds the adjective, “pure”: “pure love” (TD 214, 215); “pure faith” (SM 51). This insistence is surely not useless today, when we are so ready to say, “All you need is love,” forgetting that we so easily seek ourselves, and that self-love (so easy to detect and denounce in others) is first of all in us (e.g. SM 49, 146). Montfort invites us today to discern the true meaning of “love.”

He reminds us that there is no true love without humility and obedience. If these virtues are rather out of fashion today, perhaps the reason is that we have forgotten certain evangelical truths of which Montfort reminds us. On the path of humility and obedience, God has gone before us. It is in gazing upon a God who “made himself nothing, . . . in obedience,” that I learn: “We must descend if we would rise” (H 8:23), and the obedient one “sings ever of victory” (H 10:16–17). God has not been content to be the first to love (1 Jn 4:10, 19). God has willed to do so precisely along the pathway of obedience and humility (TD 18, 139; H 8:8–9, 10:5–8).

In the same spirit, Montfort insists on another virtue so difficult to practice today: perseverance, or fidelity. To those who might be tempted to live so called “successive fidelities,” or “limited engagements,” out of fear of a permanent commitment, Montfort brings understanding and hope. Yes, Montfort says, perseverance is difficult, even impossible: “It is difficult to persevere in holiness because of the excessive corrupting influence of the world” (TD 89). But the miracle of fidelity is possible, provided only we do not rely on ourselves, and place all our trust in God. Perseverance, too, is one of the “wondrous effects” of the consecration to Jesus through Mary’s hands. Montfort’s path of perfection calls us to the incredible fulfillment of a permanent commitment to God first of all and within that commitment, a pledge to serve—forever—our brothers and sisters.

J. Morinay

Notes: (1) Un Apotre Marial: Saint Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort (1673-1716) (A Marian Apostle: St. Louis Marie de Montfort), Librairie Mariale, Pontchateau 1942. Le Crom, 381–82. (2) Le Crom, 90. (3) Blain, 350. (4) Besnard 5:216. (5) Grandet, 373–74. (6) Besnard 1:314. (7) B. Papàsogli, L’homme venu du vent: Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort, Bellarmin, Montreal 1984, 189. English edition: Montfort, A Prophet for Our Times, Edizioni Monfortane, Rome 1991. (8) Blain, 140. (9) Blain, 339. (10) Le Crom, 102. (11) Le Crom, 358. (12) Papàsogli, 61, 95, 339. (13) Papàsogli, 134. (14) Papàsogli, 40. (15) Pérouas, 124. (16) Blain, 333. (17) Blain, 334–37. (18) Blain, 223–24. (19) Blain, 225. (20) Blain, 222. (21) Besnard 1:223. (22) J. Picot de Clorivière, La vie de M. Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort, missionnaire apostolique . . . , (The Life of Louis Marie de Montfort, Apostolic Missionary), Delalain, Paris 1785, 323. (23) Initiation théologique, Cerf, Paris 1952, 3:867. (24) In seventeenth-century translations of the Old Testament, God’s “virtue” is primarily God’s power: cf. Ps 65:7, 11:6. (25) Papàsogli, 208, 210. (26) “To charm,” in the seventeenth century, has a very strong sense: it means to attract someone or something in such a fashion that the latter is all but helpless (as in “serpent’s charm”). (27) Cf. Father Varillon’s beautiful book, L’humilité de Dieu (The humility of God). (28) Blain, 331. (29) Grand, 472–74, 66; Le Crom, 131. (30) Le Crom, 174. (31) Papàsogli, 48. (32) Le Crom, 180. (33) Le Crom, 131.

Taken from: Jesus Living in Mary: Handbook of the Spirituality of St. Louis de Montfort (Litchfield, CT: Montfort Publications, 1994).

Provided courtesy of the Montfort Fathers © All Rights Reserved.

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